Bugs and Daffy are back, and that's not all, folks

November 14, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Looney Tunes: Back In Action proves that cinematic revivals can be done right, with all the spirit of the originals intact, yet with enough of a contemporary feel to fit right into the present day.

Like the best of the old Looney Tunes, which gave the world Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, et al., Back In Action is replete with so many wisecracks, puns, double entendres and visual jokes that you almost need a flow chart to keep up with them all. But try; the effort is definitely worthwhile, and the results are hilarious.

Using a mix of live action and animation (shades of Who Framed Roger Rabbit), the movie takes Daffy's irrationally inflated ego to the obvious conclusion: The suits at Warner Bros., tired of his bluster and propensity for mayhem, show him the door. After all, Bugs is the real star of their pictures; surely, they can find some other fowl to play second banana to a rabbit.

But Bugs proves a better friend than one might expect and demands Daffy's return. Which proves easier demanded than done, since Daffy is off on another one of his patented get-rich-immediately schemes, involving a priceless jewel, a trip to Las Vegas and the mad chairman of the Acme Co., who's plotting to take over the world.

That's about enough said about the plot; to be honest, it's the weakest aspect of the movie, little more than a flimsy clothesline on which to hang some inspired Looney Tunes bits that should leave young and old alike not only laughing, but wondering why cartoons can't always be this clever.

Among the better bits is a priceless cafeteria, which gives the animators a chance to include characters who otherwise wouldn't be in the script (keep an eye out for Michigan J. Frog catching his lunch); Porky Pig and Speedy Gonzales lamenting how their careers have been cut short by political correctness; Yosemite Sam as head of a Las Vegas casino; Wile E. Coyote as Acme's "desert operative," proving the Road Runner isn't the only thing he can't catch; and Bugs, Daffy and Elmer Fudd cavorting through the paintings at the Louvre, required viewing for anyone who's wondered what the Looney Tunes characters would look like if drawn by Salvadore Dali, Edward Munch or Georges Seurat.

There's also a jab at Wal-Mart that alone is almost worth the price of admission.

The film's human stars, Jenna Elfman (as the executive who first fires Daffy, then must bring him back) and Brendan Fraser (as the stuntman who accompanies Daffy to Vegas), are game for anything. Better yet, they seem to understand that the animated characters are the stars here and are willing to let the spotlight shine on them. Nobody, after all, upstages Bugs Bunny.

Director Joe Dante (Gremlins) displays a genuine feel for the rhythms of the old cartoons, and he certainly understands their anarchic spirit. The days of master animation directors Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng may be over, but Dante at least offers hope that there are worthy successors to the whip-smart smartalecks who once made the Warner Bros. animation lot the world's wackiest place.

If nothing else, Looney Tunes: Back In Action makes one hope that, when Porky signs off with his signature "That's all, folks!" he doesn't really mean it.

Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Brendan Fraser, Jenna Elfman and Steve Martin

Directed by Joe Dante

Released by Warner Bros.

Rated PG (mild language and innuendo and slapstick violence of a cartoon nature)

Time 83 minutes

Sun Score ***1/2

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